"Where can a person go to find a classification of lawyers according to their specialty?"
That was the question of a Laguna Hills woman who was looking for a lawyer experienced in "writing, reviewing and revising a lease . . . with a fast-food chain."
No doubt there are many lawyers who regularly deal with fast-food chains and might be able to help prepare such a lease without having to spend a lot of extra "learning" time on legal research--costly time that is usually billed to the client.
The difficulty is finding a lawyer who has that precise background, and, unfortunately, there is no easy way.
As the Laguna Hills reader added, with a note of dismay, in her letter: "In my experience, any lawyer thinks he can help me."
Lawyers do specialize, and some advertise their specialties on television or in newspapers. But just because a lawyer says he specializes in a field--from the routine "trial" specialist to the more obscure "entertainment law" expert--it doesn't necessarily mean that the lawyer has a minimum level of experience or training in that field.
Many phone books list lawyers by specialty, but you should remember that a phone-book listing is nothing more than an advertisement. Merely because someone is listed as a specialist does not necessarily mean that the attorney has had "special training or has been certified as a specialist," according to the disclaimer in Pacific Bell's phone book.
Take heart. There are some lawyers who are qualified as "certified specialists" under the State Bar's certification program. Only lawyers who have demonstrated experience and tested ability in a specific field are allowed to hold themselves out in person or in advertising to be "certified specialists."
Unfortunately, there are only a limited number of fields that are covered by the State Bar's specialization program--workers compensation, tax, criminal and family law. You can obtain a list of certified specialists in your county by writing or calling the California Board of Legal Specialization, State Bar of California, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco, Calif. 94102. Telephone (415) 561-8265. You will have to pay for the reproduction costs.
State and county bars also have various sections, broken down by subject matter. Members of the bar pay an additional fee for section membership. The sections frequently sponsor seminars in their areas of expertise. Presumably, a lawyer who is a member of the immigration law section, the labor law section or any other section is at least interested in that subject, or even more likely, has an active practice in that area.
The Los Angeles County Bar publishes an association directory, which lists the names and phone numbers of the officers and executive committee members of each section. You can reach the L.A. County Bar at (213) 627-2727.
If you are not sure if the lawyer you intend to retain is an expert in the field, don't be afraid to ask some hard questions: How many of these kinds of cases have you handled? What happened in those; did you win or lose? Why are you interested in this subject? Did you study this subject in law school? Do you keep up with the professional journals or attend professional seminars in this subject?
But even that kind of questioning is not going to help the Laguna Hills woman find an expert to negotiate her lease with a fast-food restaurant. She might ask other landlords who have rented to similar outfits what lawyer they used. Perhaps she should even check with the local McDonald's for its lawyer. A lawyer who has represented the other side frequently will be a great negotiator and a reliable contract draftsman.
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles honored three law firms Tuesday night. The firms assisted the foundation's Private Attorney Involvement Project by advocating and providing pro bono legal services to the poor. The three firms that received the honor were Public Counsel, a public-interest law office, the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law and a private firm, Margolis, McTernan, Scope and Epstein.
Attorney Jeffrey S. Klein, a member of The Times' corporate legal staff, cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to questions of general interest about the law. Do not telephone. Write to Legal View, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.